An old insurance company term for natural disasters is “acts of God,” which unfortunately links the Holy One with everything awful and unforeseen that can befall humanity, as if God were not just capricious but wrathful and cruel.
President Obama bared his soul before a cross section of Christian leaders at a White House Easter breakfast on April 6. He spoke publicly of his faith in redemption through Jesus in the most personal terms since becoming president.
When I was a child and the lectionary rolled around to passages about clean and unclean foods, kosher and not, Pharisaic daintiness and gentile appetites, I concluded that the bizarre past was intruding on the normal present. The idea that you could judge and be judged by what you ate was as alien as any other item in the Levitical code.
The mark of a good wonder-worker is his similarity to wonder-workers of the past. Though Jesus exceeded Moses in teaching authority, his miraculous acts are patterned after his prophetic forebears Elijah and Elisha.
Thomas used to shock me. I agreed with John Calvin that “the stupidity of Thomas was astonishing and monstrous . . . he was not only obstinate, but also proud and contemptuous in his treatment of Christ.” To be called a Doubting Thomas would have been a soul-shaking insult to my faith.
Fred Snodgrass made one mistake and the world never let him forget it. Snodgrass was playing center field for the New York Giants in the 1912 World Series against the Red Sox. The teams were tied in the tenth inning when a fly ball fell into Snodgrass’s mitt—and he dropped it. The Red Sox won the series, and the error stuck with Snodgrass the rest of his life.
The promise of Isaiah 65 is that God is doing a new thing. There will be a new creation: a new heaven and a new earth. In this new dispensation things are going to change big time. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” No longer must one consume another to survive in this new world.
We Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to point to the pain that the rest of the world can’t see. Others may stroll past the suffering, but we stop and stare, take up an offering, make an appeal and collect blankets, sighing as we do our bit to alleviate some of the misery. That life may not actually be rotten in our part of the world today only increases our guilt for our occasional lapses into joy. How dare we sing when others are sufffering?
In time for Holy Week, this issue features David Cunningham’s essay on the destiny of the “other thief” who was on the cross beside Jesus. It also contains William H. Willimon’s witness to the radical news of Easter.
Every year we preachers eagerly look for help with the daunting challenge of preparing an Easter sermon. Never are we as acutely aware of our own limitations, intellectual and spiritual, as when we try to find words to express the reality that a dead man didn’t remain dead.